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Every year at this time, when law students reach the halfway point in their seasonal jobs with Manhattan law firms, Jennifer Jasicki imagines a sentimental refrain among partners all over town. She said it goes something like this: “If I could live life over again, let me come back as a summer associate.” And why not? As recruitment coordinator at Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, Jasicki is responsible for seeing to it that summer in New York becomes the best of times for young lawyers-to-be. In spite of the economic doldrums that show no sign of lifting yet, many summer associates in New York report that they are managing to stay busy. They also are finding that spending a summer in a real-world legal environment is a valuable part of their education — a chance to put law school to the test. FORMATIVE EXPERIENCE Michael P. Sandonato swears by the experience. Eleven years ago while a student at Columbia Law School, he was hired as a summer associate at Fitzpatrick Cella. Today Sandonato, 36, is the firm’s hiring partner. “My head was spinning,” Sandonato said of his summer of 1990. “I was entrusted with doing work for major companies — Cannon and IBM and some of our other big clients. It’s an amazing feeling. “I remember my first day, and the people I met — what I said to them, and what they said to me. Today, they are some of my closest friends,” said Sandonato. “They’re my partners, they’re my clients.” Aaron C. Bielenberg is well aware of such professional reward to come from his summer associate berth at Baker Botts. “It’s a great experience. You’re getting a lawyer’s salary, although the pressure’s not on you in the ordinary way,” said Bielenberg, 26, who begins his third year at Columbia law school in the fall. “You’re being recruited, after all, so it’s a bit of unreality. “But we definitely work. I put in very long days when I have to. On the whole, though, it’s been pleasant and enjoyable. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise so far,” said Bielenberg. “I mean, you hear some horror stories. I thought it would be more competitive and brutal – like law school can be.” Law school has its place, while a summer associate job plays quite another role: that of a “fresh awakening,” as Michael G. Burke put it. “We’ve been to school for a time, and now there’s a certain sense of wanting to take the car out for a ride — to see if what we’ve learned in the classroom applies,” said Burke, five weeks into his summer position at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. “For that, you’re very reliant on other people. They’ll either make or break your experience.” On that score, he seems to have no worry. “They must hide the mean people in a closet somewhere,” said Burke, 33, a third-year student at Brooklyn Law School after 10 years working in real estate. “To an attorney, everybody has been willing to teach and mentor and give me ample direction on assignments. They know that I’m new, and that I want to do a good job.” Alexandra Grigoras, a summer associate at Fitzpatrick Cella, said she relies on mentoring from Sandonato and other partners. It seems to have paid off. “I was given an assignment to write up a declaratory judgment motion in a patent prosecution case,” said Grigoras, 25, a student at the University of Michigan Law School. “It was really exciting. I’d never done one of those. After working with the partners, I wrote it. And then it went to the client — about a half-hour later.” Last year, Grigoras spend her summer at Jenner & Block in Chicago. The highlight was an asylum case, in which she helped reunite a Nigerian client in the U.S. with the young daughter he had to leave behind in Africa. That case was “close to my heart,” said Grigoras, whose own father defected to the U.S. from Romania during the brutal dictatorship of the late Nicolae Ceaucescu. Will she practice asylum law one day? “I enjoy pro bono work,” she said. “Right now, though, I basically need to pay off loans.” SUMMER FELLOWSHIP Another of New York’s summer associates, Anupama Chaturvedi at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, has chosen litigation as her field, and to that end has taken advantage of a public interest fellowship at the nearly 400-lawyer firm. In a few weeks, she leaves the firm to join the Manhattan civil division of the Legal Aid Society — continuing at full salary. For Chaturvedi, a third-year student at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., this is not her first time around as a summer associate. She held the same position last year at a large firm that she declined to name. “This time, I didn’t want to work for a huge firm where I never got to meet the person I worked for,” she said, “and where there were so many associates between you and the partners. “Out of my three assignments [at Swidler Berlin], I’m working with two partners directly, one with a partner, and one with a senior associate and a partner. They’ve been very generous about explaining things.” While she has been doing lunches and other summer activities, Chaturvedi, 25, has done those kinds of things before. “That sort of extravagant stuff doesn’t wow me as much as the day-in-day-out goodness of the people I’ve met here [at Swidler Berlin].” So far, Nicole Runyan at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan has found the work at her firm engaging. “One of my concerns was that I would get stuck in something mundane, like due diligence,” said Runyan, 24, a student at Boston University School of Law. “But the second day I was here I had an assignment — an interesting and challenging one. “I just came back from observing bankruptcy negotiations in Chicago,” she added. “I traveled with upper-level associates and a partner from the litigation department. I met the head of the insolvency department in Chicago. Everybody was very helpful and accommodating, and answered all my questions. I never felt I was the lowly summer associate who was just tagging along.” GETTING LEEWAY Martin M. Dunleavy is likewise gratified by the respect he has enjoyed as a summer associate at Torys. “I was actually a bit surprised by the firm placing a good amount of faith in my abilities,” said Dunleavy, 24, a student at Fordham University School of Law. “I’ve been given a great amount of leeway and, by and large, my work hasn’t been micro-managed.” But he has been given guidance, he said, by working with “extremely competent” people. “One of the great things about Torys is that it’s a small enough firm to allow for a collegial atmosphere, and big enough for a diversified practice. I’m able to get a fairly wide exposure in corporate law, bankruptcy law, employment law, and litigation.” Maria I. Krasnikow, also at Torys, offered practical advice for next year’s summer associates. “Pay attention to legal research and writing because you’re going to need those skills when you get here,” said Krasnikow, 26, a student at Georgetown. “You’re led to believe that you’ll spend your summer at lunch. But I’ve been working on all kinds of different assignments here, without much down time. “It’s been a lot more work than I was prepared for, but in a good way,” she said. “It feels more real.” Which may lead to a certain problem come September. As Runyan explained, “It’s going to be terribly hard to go back to law school after 12 weeks of being in the real world.”

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